NEW YORK — Here’s what it took for the New York Yankees to scratch out a run against Dallas Keuchel on Thursday night: an error, single, walk and catcher’s interference. In six innings against Houston’s ace, that was all the highest-scoring offense in the American League got.
Well, that and a sense of relief to be done seeing Keuchel for another month and a half when the Yankees head to Houston at the end of June. The 2015 American League Cy Young winner will next be the Marlins’ problem on Tuesday, and somebody else’s headache every five days after that.
Allowing only the unearned run on Thursday, Keuchel lowered his ERA to 1.69, and when the Astros hung on for a 3-2 win on Jake Marisnick’s throw to cut down Jacoby Ellsbury with the tying run in the ninth inning, Keuchel moved to 6-0. He went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA in his Cy Young season, then 9-12 with a 4.55 last year.
“I think we were trying to play a little tight last year and trying to be too fine, including myself,” Keuchel said. “That’s well documented, but it is what it is. We didn’t have a good year, but we knew, come spring training, we had some key additions and some guys that were going to show some younger guys how to be major-leaguers, and it’s taken full effect so far. It’s been a fun ride so far.”
The additions for the Astros over the winter included veteran catcher Brian McCann, and it has not taken long for the ace of the staff to find a rapport with his new backstop. McCann has caught all eight of Keuchel’s starts after the southpaw threw to three different catchers – Jason Castro, Evan Gattis, and Erik Kratz – in 2016.
“You don’t always have to have an answer back for what he says,” Keuchel said. “Sometimes, you just want to listen to what he has to offer, and just go from there. He’s caught arguably three of the best pitchers in the history of the league, so, I’ve still got a long way to go, but I want to get there, and I’m not always trying to have an answer, just sometimes listen.”
Said McCann: “I can’t say enough good things about him and what he brings. He’s such a competitor.”
Or, as Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “You know, he is really good.”
Yes, he is. Keuchel’s Cy Young season didn’t come out of nowhere – he had gone 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA the year before, leading the American League in complete games with five. Then he jumped his innings total from 200 to 232, plus another 14 frames in the 2015 playoffs. He wouldn’t be the first pitcher to have struggled the year after a massive increase in workload, and he won’t be the last.
“Last year sort of doesn’t count, in terms of impacting this year,” Hinch said. “I’ve never put Dallas Keuchel on the mound and not had complete confidence. From the day I got here, he’s been remarkable. Good days and bad days, short rest, long rest, he’s as good a competitor as we have. This year, having him have the focus and the execution and having the first six weeks that he’s had, it’s an anchor for our pitching staff and a ton of confidence for our team. He’s a good one.”
He is, and he has been, and he should continue to be. Keuchel knows it, and he knows that any doubts about him based on last season are off target. He laughed it off, and rightly so when asked if he felt a need to prove himself again.
“No, and I love when people ask me that,” Keuchel said. “I’m the same old guy. I’ve been the same guy.”
Much to the dismay of the Yankees and everyone still to face him.